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REI Pack-Away 12 Soft Cooler

rated 4.0 of 5 stars
photo: REI Pack-Away 12 Soft Cooler cooler

It does what it says it will do, but...


  • Easy to pack for travel
  • Does keep food cold
  • Roomy enough for a few groceries
  • Saves money


  • Requires a lot of ice
  • Timeline includes the time it takes the ice to melt and warm
  • Condensation on the outside
  • Filled with 8.5 lbs. of ice, the Pack-Away 12 will keep 12 cans below 40°F for up to 32 hrs.

This is the first line in the product description at REI. It is accurate but it does include the hours the cold water keeps things cool. Once the ice melts, you're keeping stuff in a bucket of water but if you've anything in the cooler besides drinks, it can get messy unless those containers are 100% water tight. Ziplocs won't do it, as we found out.

We bought this for a 3-week trip in New Zealand. We'd planned to take advantage of the Holiday Parks and campgrounds to avoid the cost of motels and hotels. Neither of us like eating out for every meal so the little cooler allowed us to keep some staples (butter, cheese, milk, and beer) on hand to cook basic meals. We found it very handy for that purpose but found that it required buying a bag of ice at least every other day. The cooler kept things for up to 48 hours when we were in cooler environs. Again, the last day in a bucket of water. We double bagged and that helped. But we all know melted ice makes a mess in the bottom of any cooler. Buying ice was a pain and we made it in bags when we could. 

We greatly appreciated having the cold foods along and also that takes up very little space in a duffle. It stores flat and folds if needed. The different configurations make it suitable for a variety of needs. We found the cube bottom and full-zip top worked best. We didn't have anything spoil on us which is good. We probably used more ice because we drained the water to keep from getting things so wet but it was more of an inconvenience than a flaw. Because of the design, there is some condensation so you want to be sure you don't leave it where that could cause damage. Ours lived in the back seat of a rental truck so we just had to wipe once a day or so.

The cooler cost $40 and I estimate it paid for itself about 10 times that on our trip, based on buy groceries and eating in restaurants...which we did about half the time. And, it's available for future use as a grocery bag, picnic "basket," beach day or whatever. It has a shoulder strap that makes carry easy as long as you aren't going too far. As I said, it isn't likely intended to serve the purpose that it did for use, but when considering buying, and leaving a hard-side cooler in country or having to eat out more, this was a great buy. The four stars is based on our use over several weeks and comparing it to a hard-side cooler. It performed very well under the circumstances and we'll use it plenty more, I'm sure. Heck, it may even give our "Little Oscar" a run for its money! The Pack-Away comes in several sizes so there is one for most everyone.


As a kid, my Dad always had the ice chest for camping and I bought my first cooler in the 70s, the afore mentioned Little Oscar (which we still have) and have used various Coleman coolers over the years. This is my first soft-side. I was pretty impressed.

Source: bought it new
Price Paid: 39.95

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Price Current Retail: $27.89
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